Monday, 21 May 2012

Round MK Relay race report

This is a very quick report on yesterdays Round MK Relay. In short this was a 31 mile course around Milton Keynes which consisted of four separate legs. The first two (10m and 5m) were mainly on hard surfaces - roads, riverside and canal path, whilst legs 3 and 4 were on muddy trails and water logged fields. Shoe choice was made tricky for this reason but in the end it was made for me. My trail shoes which I was gonna wear simply werent comfortable and rubbed my heel so I had no alternative but to wear my post-race shoes for the actual run... my Brooks racing flats! They certainly wouldn't have been my choice but they actually worked out well.

I ran the first two legs comfortably in 8 minute miling up to 15 miles and then hit the trails. This obviously slowed me down especially in the brooks but still comfortable. I was enjoying every second and the race was going well. 18 teams were running and all were chasing me down as I (the only soloist) started first. Others started based on their predicted finish time. The idea being all to finish at 13:30. I was fuelling well on nuun and gels and feeling good for the finish. After lots more mud, water and cow poo I made it first over the finish line in 4h37. A great training run and thoroughly enjoyable. Happy to get 30 miles (31.37m) under the belt and feeling ok today with no injuries.
The real suprise was the Brooks Green Silence. The longest I had run in them was a half marathon so this was quite a bit further. My feet felt like though and I definitely think my running style is improving thanks to all the miles I'm putting in in minimlist shoes. In fact the last 71 miles I've run were in the Merrells or Brooks. So is this the death for the conventional shoe... Its too early to say but I'm certainly enjoying my running in them. That said I have also just acquired some Salomon Crossmax which are a hybrid road/trail shoe with a chunky heel. Gonna wear them in two weeks time on the GUCR and will report back on how they are....

Training and race update...

This post offers a quick round up of the past two weeks since the Fellsman and a few thoughts on training and race strategy as I begin to focus on my next 100.

I took a whole week off immediately following the Fellsman to fully recovery both from the exersions and niggle to my right heel. Just a little sore thats all. Then it was off to Hungary with the family for a week and a bit (I write this as we drive (not me) to Budapest airport). To save space in the luggage I could only bring one pair of trainers so it had to be the Merrell Trail Gloves. Small, light and perfect for a bit of low mileage running. I've been wanting to do a few more miles in them and the track around the local lake in Gyor offered the perfect opportunity. With so little consistent running (really since the TP100 in March) my goal was to get most days. And I managed this for 6 from 8 days. For the most part taking it nice and easy completing a 6m on 4 days, a 10m and a 7m.

The 7 mile was a bit different as I decided to run a single mile as hard as I could. Something I've never actually done before so I was keen to know what my fastest mile was. I jogged 2 miles around the track to warm up and then hit the GO button. 1 mile was pretty much exactly 3 laps of the lake. I wore the Garmin to measure distance and pace. I went out too hard on the 1st lap, died on the 2nd as I felt my legs fading badly, but held on in the 3rd. I really didn't have a clue about what pace I could run and was quite happy with 5:15. Had I paced it a little better I think I could have got quite close to a 5 minute mile. What this little experiment brought home to me was just how fast the Elite marathon runners are going! They go FASTER than this for all 26.2 miles! Unbelievable! We all know what pace they run but these are just numbers which most of the time mean very little. So I urge you to go out there and run a single mile as hard as you can to see what I'm getting at.

There is also a local oval track (abet concrete) at home so I'm gonna keep up these mile sessions now on... perhaps once every 2-3 weeks to see where I can get to. My first aim will be to break 5 minutes.

The second experiment I tried as part of this 7m session was to walk a mile as fast as I could. So after a mile recovery following my 5:15 effort I walked a mile and managed a 10:59. Not bad for walking! There was a reason for doing this partly just down to curiosity and also to start to establish what an optimimal race strategy might be for my next 100. I'm coming to realise that running Ultras is about completing the distance in the most efficient way possible, not neccesarily about the 'fastest' or 'just getting around' but to do so in a way that has you moving at optimum efficiency throughout. In all my previously 100s I have slowed down too much in the second 50 so my quest is to find the balance between slowing down my running (a little) in the first 50 but also speeding up my walking which together I think will reduce my overall time and get me closer to sub 20hrs which is my ambitous goal for 2012. Hence the reason for the mile walk experiment. I've always been a fast walker and seem to power hike hills quicker than those around me in races so this is where I think I can further improve. Furthermore following on from a chat with a chap post Fellsman we were talking about UTMB and the virtues of using poles. He was a big advocate of them and got me thinking about introducing them as part of my ultras to maximise my walking speed and to improve my overall efficiency on the move. Hence I've bought some out here in Hungary and am looking forward to seeing how I can incorporate them as part of my training and racing. I plan to use them for the SDW100 in June and if all goes well they may well become a key feature of future races.

Utimately my focus here and the use of poles is for UTMB2013 where I have a guaranteed entry. They are I'm led to believe not only absoluetly invaluable on the long and steep climbs but also assist on the descents as well building confidence and helping with footing. We shall see...

Next up is the MK Relay race this Sunday. This is a 4 leg relay on road and trail. 19 teams are competing over the 31 mile route including 4 teams from LBAC. I'm running it solo as a training run to build up the mileage. It will be at a very conservative pace so as not to over do it. Plus the following Sunday I just arranged to pace a new friend (chap I met on TP100) in the 145m GUCR. It passes through Leighton Buzzard at 95 miles so I've tenatively planned to run the 'final' 50 miles in support. Its a relaxed arrangement with no pressure on me to have to do the full 50, but I'm sure once I'm out there I will be there til the finish! The GUCR isnt a race that i've been too keen to enter myself but I figure that this small taster will provide an ideal opportunity on which to base any future decision to take part. I'm also going to try out the poles to see what assistance they can provide on the flat.

So thats me sorted for the next few weeks....

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Fellsman race report

The Fellsman Returns...

This was an epic race of all proportions made even tougher by the worst conditions in the event's 50 year history. I say this on the grounds that this year was the first time they have ever had to abandon the race whilst many were still out on the course. More on this later....
I met up with Nick Ham (my Fellsman buddy!) on the Friday in Ingleton where we enjoyed two dinners! Fish and chip supper and pizza at the local italian restaurant with my parents who had driven up with me to support me out on the course. Fuelled to the brim and after a Black Sheep Ale to aid a good nights sleep we retired to our 17c guest house.
It was a very calm still evening. How that was to change! Half way through the night you could here the wind battering the windows of the bathroom. By the time we were standing on the start line at a low level the wind was unbelievably strong. And you knew that higher up it was gonna be a lot LOT worst. This made kit choice very easy though. I opted for my heavier weight TNF wind/water proof jacket which I wore from the start and left out my lightweight jacket that would offer less protection against the elements.
As always the race starts with very little fanfare. Just a nice warming speech from Suzanne Carter to get runners and hikers on their way as they enter the 'twilight zone'. My mum and dad were taken by surprise as they were still right in the middle of the pack as everyone got underway and were almost unwittingly swept along by the 500 strong pack.
For this race report I'm not going to recount every section and checkpoint as there were 24 of them! My 2010 goes into more detail if you are interested (although it is a long one nevertheless! :-) I set off at what I thought was an average pace but by the climb up to CP3 at the top of Whernside (2419') I realised that I was going a little faster than was probably wise. For company alongside me was Nicky Spinks who was last years female winner in 13hrs (and this years winner too). A time way beyond my capabilities. I had 15 hours in mind this year but that was before the true horror of the conditions were evident. The full on head and side winds were so strong that you were using half your energy just to stay upright and not be blown off the hillside! I'm not kidding. I can't overstate just how strong the wind was. The only other time I've experienced wind like it is in the Wind Tunnel at my company BRE which can blast you with up to 200mph winds! And as time went on it was more and more apparent that this was a matter of survival of the fittest over anything else. Time was quite frankly irrelevant.
Nicky Spinks and those she was running with were soon infront and moving a lot quicker than me. The 1000ft climb from Kingsdale up to CP5 (Gragareth 2058') was HUGE. You cover this ascent in just 1 mile which goes straight up! I remember it well from 2010 but this doesn't make it any easier. I nibbled on some flapjack and pushed on up taking a well earned breather every now and then.
From CP5 to CP7 (Flintergill 1150') the going was much better and flatter along the ridgeline but also much wetter too. The ground was marshy in places and the sealskinz socks were working very well at first in keeping the water out. This was however before the water and mud came above the sock line rendering them pretty much useless as the water got in and there was no escape. This section was a slog as my energy levels and speed dropped. I was paying for my early enhausaism, but I looked forward to and focused on getting to Dent (CP8) which was the first major food stop and lowest point on the route at 570'.
After the long stoney descent into Dent my mum and dad were there to cheer me in. I refuelled well on beans, sausage rolls, hot cheese rolls, tea and choc digestives. Yummy. I felt a hundred times better after that little lot and prepared for the longest section from Dent up to Blea Moor (1756'). I changed my water logged socks to the injinjis which would at least let the water out again. In 2010 this next section was a real slog in the heat but this time around it was far cooler and went very well without a hitch. There were also many more runners around this time which allowed me to follow and take a direct line to CP9 positioned at the top of Blea Moor. To get there however required a hike through ankle/calve deep water and marsh land. Once your feet are wet they're wet so it became less of an issue after a while. Get use to it and man up Blofeld!
The section down to Stonehouse (CP10) which is the next major food stop is beautiful and downhill! I thoroughly enjoyed it. The pasta and tea went down a treat and I was soon on my way. It was at this point with the sun out that the blue wig that I had been sporting since the start and had remarkably stayed on despite the gale force winds had to go in favour of a white cap to keep the sun off my face. Many spectators remarked on the wig which kept me smiling. Many thought I was running for charity (I wasn't) but to keep things amusing I made up a story about running to save the blue squirrel!
After Stonehouse (840') I put my powerhike to maximum effect to reach the top of Great Knountberry (2203') in good time. I was now pacing myself much better on both the uphills and the flats and had regained my confidence and was feeling strong. The food definitely played a major part in this. The section down to CP12 at Redshaw was swift and very enjoyable as were the ones that followed. I had found my groove and was moving well eating up the miles, and the food on offer.
Up to this point I still had no reason to consult my maps or route description penned masterfully by Nick Ham. This was invaluable in getting me around in 2010, but a mix of following those in front and knowing the route this time around meant that navigation was not an issue. This was however until Fleet Moss (CP15) where I took too long to refuel and missed the opportunity to head off with others that I had been running with prior. My first and only big mistake on the whole event. Once ready I preceeded on my own from Fleet Moss to Middle Tongue. A long 4.5m section. I didn't give it a second thought and ran along the fence line up and over the peat hags. It was slow going. I made several navigational errors on this section where I ended up heading too far left and climbed higher than I needed to, when I should of stayed to the right and lower down to pick up a quad bike track which would have taken me straight towards the next CP. Instead I had to contend with some horrible terrain that was tough mentally and physically. I reckon I added a good 1/2hr to my time on this section from mincing around eating jam sandwiches instead of getting out and sticking with others who knew the way. Of course if I had also consulted my map and route description far earlier than I did on this section then this would have also helped. Note to self: unless you KNOW the way don't guess cos its unlikely to be the right way or save you time.
I finally found the new Middle Tongue CP which had been shifted slightly further South due to land owner permissions not being granted across the original route. The next section was equally tough to navigate made worst by the continuing stupidly strong winds and the first of two snow bizzards that were horozontal. THAT's how cold it was getting by this stage with the wind chill factor sending it below freezing. Conditions were definitely deterioating so all I could think was to keep moving as fast as I could which would help to stay warm and keep spirits high.
I stumbled across CP17 (Hell Gap) through better navigation (although tough terrain) and from there it was a short downhill section to Cray which was the next major refuelling point and also Grouping point for the night stage. Basically beyond this point you HAD to stick with those in your group (4 minimum) to CP24 at Yarnbury. If you didn't you were in danger of being disqualified. The condition of many runners at Cray wasn't good with many going no further due to exposure and illness. It resembled a scene from a war film with bodies wrapped in body bags! In this case foil body bags shivering vigourously. After some warm spaggetti hoops and warm creamed rice pudding (both tasted SO good!) I got changed into my night gear adding an extra long sleeve base layer and wind/water proof bottoms to go over the tights. On with the head torch too as night descended and our group of 6 was off into the dark windy cold night and straight up Buckden Pike. A climb just shy of 1000ft! But we were use to this by now .
It was soon apparent however that all was not well in the camp. One member of the group Mark was not moving well and feeling sick. In hindsight he should have headed back down to Cray and bailed (something he was quite keen to do) but the group convinced him to battle on to the next CP with road access at Park Rash which was another 4 miles. This doesn't sound far but on this terrain and with the worsening conditions this was definitely the wrong decision putting Mark at more risk whilst slowing the group down considerably. On a plus point though Michael - another member of the group, had run the Fellsman 6 times before and was faultless on the navigational side which makes the night section far easier and more enjoyable as you're able to relax and run instead of worrying about what way to go.
We made it to Park Rash (CP21 of 24) with just over 10 miles left to go. Mark did well to make it this far and bailed here. At the same time several others from other teams all fighting for warmth in the small tent were also worst for wear and called it a day. Subsequently the 5 remaining in our group were grouped with 3 others as they couldn't leave without making up the minimum 4. So we headed out of CP21 as 8 strong and set off to into the fog and started the notorious ascent up Great Whernside (2310'). We were all I think feeling strong and no one was holding up the group as we ran where we could still fighting THAT WIND and hiked the uphills. The 2 volunteer marshalls at the top of Great Whernside were holed up in a tent squeezed between two giant boulders offering a little more protection. We heard later that one competitor had a bad fall up here and broke a foot requiring rescue by air ambulance. Flying in these conditions requires some insane commitment to the job so hats off to them for that.
Descending Great Whernside felt for the first time like the end was in sight. I could visualise what remained and thoroughly enjoyed the last eight miles with the wind on our backs and a 1000ft descent which made the going far easier.
Before long we were heading into Yarnbury. The mood in the camp was high and we had all made light work of the night section all things considered. What remained was whether I could get a PB but to do so I would have to sprint the final section to Grassington. All down hill and on road i thought it would be easy but those final two miles were very hard on the feet. Nevertheless I didn't give up and made it to the school with just one minute to spare. finishing in 16h:47m.
what a race! I be back next year for more....